RPGs are an interesting genre. Like any other, you have big budget titles (Skyrim, Dragon age), and your lower budget titles (Risen, Divinity). The AAA titles are of course, much more polished in terms of visuals and performance, and the smaller ones usually have poor visuals or an overall lack of polish. Now, you would think that the AAA are the best choice, and you would be right in many ways, but I feel that RPGs made from small teams or on a low budget usually beat AAA titles in a few ways. This is where Bound by Flame comes in.
There will be some slight spoilers by the way, but nothing too bad.Overview
Bound by Flame is an action RPG developed by Spiders, a French developer. You play as Vulcan, a male or female mercenary in a group known as the Freeborn Blades. Early on in the game, Vulcan is imbued with a fire demon, and is forced to live with it inside his head. It's not all bad though, as the demon grants him powerful fire abilities. Vulcan decides to use these new powers to combat the 7 Ice lords that are destroying the world.Story
The story involves Vulcan and the mercenary group travelling across the land to reach the Elven city of Caraldthas to kill Lord Blackfrost, one of the Ice lords. Yes, you only end up actually getting to fight ONE of the lords, which is rather disappointing. You end up meeting multiple companions that help you on your quest. Each of the companions has their own story and some personal tasks for you as well. Unfortunately, I would say that the story is one of the weakest aspects of the game, as for the first half of the game, it sets up this very interesting tale, and than rushes past it in the third act, leaving it all feeling like a wasted opportunity. The game does have multiple ending though, which is nice.
There are also many side quests to take on, which gives you extra experience points. These quests usually involve finding an item, killing certain enemies, or talking to certain people. They aren't anything special, but I did enjoy doing them, as they felt rewarding.
Throughout the game you can do side quests for your companions, which apparently builds up your relationships with them, but it amasses to nothing more than an awkward scene where your main character comes on to them before the final fight. Gameplay
Bound by Flame is a third person action-rpg, the X,Y and B buttons are used to perform attacks. You have two stances at your disposal, Warrior stance allows you to wield large weapons, like two handed swords,war hammers, and large axes. The warrior can kick an enemy to stun them with the B button, and parry with RT. Warrior attacks are generally slow, but do more damage than daggers, which is what the ranger stance uses. In ranger stance, B allows you to dodge backwards. and counter if times right, replacing the warriors parry. You also have your pyromancies, which are magic spells that you can map to buttons. each of the styles has its own skill tree, which grants new abilities and passive bonuses. You also have the Feats system, which are separate passive bonuses like crafting boosts and loot pickup increases. Overall, I think that the progression system is very fun, and there is a good amount of options to choose from, leading to some varied experiences.
But, skills wouldn't be important if there wasn't any combat! So, how is the combat? Well, it's a mixed bag I have to say. The overall feel of the game is kind of sloppy, with your character taking a long time to execute actions in combat, and some rather stiff controls. You can lock on to enemies , which does help, because the game usually throws multiple enemies at a time at you, which tends to get REALLY messy, as you get attacked from all sides, taking massive amounts of damage, and getting stun-locked. You can have one companion with you at all times, but they usually don't do much, I recommend taking in a ranged companion, so they don't rush in and die instantly. I should also mention, this game can be really hard, as it tends to throw enemies that can kill you in a couple of hits in large mobs. Even on hawk mode (normal mode), I had a lot of trouble getting through. All of this said though, the combat can still be fun, and killing a tough enemy is very satisfying.
Enemies drop materials, which you can then use with the games fantastic crafting system. Basically, you can add pieces to your armour to strengthen it. For example, you can craft some shoulder plates onto your chest piece to add more defence. It's a simple system, but it feels very rewarding as you actually get to change the way your armour looks.Visuals
The graphics in the Xbox version of Bound by Flame are very dated, to put it simply. Textures are low res, character models look poor, and the animation quality is pretty dreadful. Lip syncing is usually off, and walking around and dialogue moments just don't look natural at all. There is one good thing about the visuals though, and that is that the lighting in the game is very good, and can create some generally good looking environments, although the shadows are very jagged and tend to move around the characters faces awkwardly.Music/Voice Acting
The music in Bound by Flame is excellent. It's good at being intense in fight sequences, and calming in camp areas. Some songs aren't too memorable, but a lot of them are quite beautiful I think. I urge you to give a listen to this song, which plays in a village, and during romance scenes.
The voice acting on the other hand, is pretty average. Some of it is good, some ok, and some of it is downright bad. The only voice actor I recognized was Gideon Emery (Balthier from Final Fantasy XII, Fenris from Dragon Age 2). It's not always the fault of the actors though, as some of the lines in this game are really dumb, and occasionally feel out of place.Achievements
Now for the most important thing!!
The achievements in Bound by Flame aren't the most difficult I've encountered, but I wouldn't consider them to be easy. You have to complete the game on the hardest difficulty, which I would consider doing on a second play through, as you have to do multiple anyway. You need to max out all skill trees, which you can only max out 1 on a single play through, as well seduce 4 of your companions, 2 for each gender.Overall
To go back to what I was saying at the beginning, Bound by Flame is not very polished, it has poor visuals and sloppy gameplay. It's simply not as technically advanced as AAA games. But it, and many other budget RPGs have something that I feel AAA titles seem to lack. Bound by Flame really feels like it was made by RPG fans, it has heart, and it's got a lot of charm that I have trouble finding in AAA RPGs. It's certainly not perfect, but I think it's worth a go if you are a fan of the genre. It's only $40, so at least they released it at a much cheaper price.
This my first review for this site, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated!